Here’s a thought-provoking article from Psychology Today that explores how language can affect memory and behavior. Author Viorica Marian, Ph.D., psycholinguist at Northwestern University, describes how memories of multilingual people are linked to the language used while the event occurred. “Memories,” she observes, “will often be more emotional when there is a match between the language spoken when the experience took place and the language spoken when remembering it.”
Among the results:
- multilingual speakers may experience more stress when taboo words are spoken in their native language;
- but they may be less biased and more consistent in their non-native language;
- and their assessment of risk may be altered depending on the power and variety of examples that come to mind — which, again, may depend on the language spoken when previous examples presented themselves.
Where’s the significance for health care providers? This is how Marian sees it: “How risky something feels affects the choices that we make for everything from medical decisions to national security. For example, in the United States, over 25% of doctors are foreign-born and many of their patients speak another language as well. It is important to be aware of how the language being spoken may be influencing the decisions we and others around us make.”